Cocaine users are 45% more likely to develop glaucoma (blindness) even if they’ve given up the drug.
People who take cocaine or are former users are 45 per cent more likely to develop a common form of blindness, a large study has found.
Researchers also found they developed glaucoma 20 years earlier on average than patients without a history of drug use.
A study of 5.3million people by the Veterans Health Administration, in Indianapolis, found glaucoma patients with a history of cocaine use were on average only 54-years-old. This compared to patients with no history of class A drug abuse who were around 73-years-old.
Study leader Dr Dustin French, from the Regenstrief Institute, said: ‘The association of illegal drug use with open-angle glaucoma requires further study, but if the relationship is confirmed, this understanding could lead to new strategies to prevent vision loss.’
In England, about 480,000 people have chronic open-angle glaucoma, which causes vision loss over time.
The mechanism behind this is not fully understood but scientists know it is caused when the drainage tubes within the eye become slightly blocked.
This prevents eye fluid from draining properly which increases pressure in the eye and gradually injures the optic nerve.
Most people with the condition display no symptoms until the disease has progressed when peripheral vision is lost.
Damage to the eyes cannot be reversed, but glaucoma can be treated with eye drops or laser treatment to prevent it progressing. If untreated the patient eventually goes blind.
Dr French and colleagues found that among the 5.3 million veterans who used VA outpatient clinics in 2009 – nearly 83,000, or about 1.5 percent, had glaucoma.
During the same year, nearly 178,000, or 3.3 percent, of all those seen had a diagnosis of cocaine abuse or dependency.
Researchers said it a causal link is proven it would give scientists another modifiable risk factor for the disease.
Last year, a major international study showed British youngsters have become the greatest consumers of cocaine in the developed world, with 6.2 per cent of 16-34 year-olds reportedly using the class A drug .
The European Union drugs monitoring agency added that in the five years up to 2008, cocaine use ‘increased by 50 per cent in the United Kingdom and Ireland and was stable or decreased in eight countries’.
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